Inscriptions 2

21 Jun

#21 Beth-shan Stele of Ramesse II

An instructive example of this sort of thing was a curious misunderstanding that for long clung to the Philadelphia expedition’s celebrated discovery of the Stele of Rameses II at Beth-shan shortly after the end of World War I—a misunderstanding all the more strange because those responsible for it were neither sensation-mongers nor mere popularizers, but first-rate and conscientious scholars.

Let us start with the unvarnished truth about the inscription on this Stele. It merely stated that “the chieftains of the Rethenu (Palestinians) and of the Aamu and Shashu (Asiatics) were defeated by Rameses II (c. 1301–1234 B.C.) and made obeisance to him in his beautiful fortress of Raamses.” (2001). Biblical Archaeologist 1-4, 9(electronic ed.).

A similar stir was initially created by the stele of Ramses II, when it was thought to refer to Asiatics or ‘Apiru building the city of Ramses in the Delta, i.e., the enslaved Hebrews of Exodus 1:11. The passage (lines 9f.) merely says however, that after defeating his enemies, they (and presumably every one else as well) came to the city of Ramses and bowed down. Ramses also appears on a cylinder seal (found in Level V) along with the god Set. (2001). Biblical Archaeologist 1-4, 30(electronic ed.).

#22 400 year Stele

The Four-Hundred-Year Stele. During the early tenth century B.C.E., an Egyptian pharaoh of the XXIst Dynasty (c. 1075–948 B.C.E.), perhaps Solomon’s father in-law, transferred the capital from Ramses (formerly Avaris) to Tanis. Among the monuments moved in the process was this stele of Ramesses II, which records the inauguration of the cult of the Hyksos god Seth 400 years earlier. Baruch Halpern suggests that this stele, moved at a time when relations between Solomon’s court and the Egyptian court were good and when parts of the Bible were being composed in Jerusalem, is responsible for the biblical notion that 400 years separated Joseph (or the Hyksos) and the pharaoh who pressed the Israelites into building the capital city Ramses (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BAS The Rise of Ancient Israel. Biblical Archaeology Society).

#23 The Tale of Two Brothers

Many interesting stories come from this period of Egyptian history. “The Tale of Two Brothers” describes how the wife of one brother lied about the sexual advances of the other brother. This story is similar to the false accusation of Potiphar’s wife against Joseph. Myths about the struggles between the gods Horus and Seth and the “Wisdom of Amenemopet,” which are similar to Proverbs 22:17–24:22, are a few of the important literary compositions from Egypt during these years.(Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

In the Tale of Two Brothers, a woman attempts to seduce her husband’s younger brother, but he resists her advances. In revenge, the woman tells her husband that his brother tried to rape her, so the man sets out to kill his younger brother. Learning the truth from his younger brother, the man returns home, kills his wife, and throws her body to the dogs (COS 1:40). In this story, the woman is only guilty of intent to commit adultery, but she still suffers the penalty of death(Raccah, W., & Mangum, D. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Adultery in the Ancient Near East. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).

The story of Joseph (Gen 37) and the Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers share obvious similarities. For example:

•      In both stories, a married woman attempts to seduce a younger man whose virtue is apparent.

•      When propositioned, each man flees, only to be maligned and accused of a crime he did not commit.

•      After exile or imprisonment, the innocence of each man is recognized.

•      Both go on to rise in power and influence.

The Egyptian tale includes a number of fantastic details absent from the biblical text of the Joseph narrative, including sentient livestock and reincarnation.

Some scholars see the biblical story as dependent on the Egyptian tale (Westermann, Genesis, 28). Others see them as having been told in similar fashion because they originated in a similar cultural milieu (McKenzie and Kaltner, Old Testament, 104−05). Both stories share details of the “spurned wife motif” that may be found elsewhere in Egyptian and Greek literature (Redford, 91–93). The vast majority of the story bears no similarity to the story of Joseph (Hoffmeier, 81).

Despite the inclusion of supernatural elements, some have suggested that The Tale of Two Brothers’ origins lie in an actual historical setting, namely, a dispute concerning the Egyptian throne (Hollis, 102). This is complicated by the fact that both brothers in the tale have names connected to Egyptian deities: Anubis is the Egyptian god of mummification, while Bata is a minor deity recognized in Upper Egypt.(Bryant, D. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Two Brothers, Tale of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#24 Merneptah Stele

A 2.1 m (7 ft) slab engraved with hieroglyphics, also called the “Israel Stele,” boasts of the Egyptian pharaoh’s conquest of Libyans and peoples in Palestine, including the Israelites: “Israel—his seed is not.” This is the earliest reference to Israel in non-Biblical sources, and demonstrates that, as of ca. 1230 BC, the Hebrews were already living in the Promised Land.(2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(3), 89.

A large black granite monument with an inscription commemorating a military campaign of Pharaoh Merneptah around 1209 BC. The stele is significant because it contains the earliest known extrabiblical reference to a people called “Israel.”

Biblical Relevance

Merneptah’s mention of Israel as a distinct socioethnic group in Canaan suggests that by 1209 BC (around the time of the biblical judges), they were a military force whose defeat was worth memorializing in a victory stele. While the Bible does not mention Pharaoh Merneptah or his campaign, the Merneptah Stele provides an external chronological anchor for building a timeline of Israelite history.

Discovery and Description

In 1896 Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie, an English Egyptologist, discovered the stele while excavating the funerary temple of Pharaoh Merneptah at Thebes (Robinson, Bearing of Archaeology, 49). The stele is now on display at the Cairo Museum. A fragmentary copy is at the Karnak Temple.

The stele is 10 feet, 3 inches tall; 5 feet, 3 inches wide; and 14 inches thick, with inscriptions on both sides. One side describes the campaign of Pharaoh Merneptah in 28 lines that contain around 3,000 hieroglyphics (Robinson, Bearing of Archaeology, 50).

More than a century before Merneptah, the stele was originally set up by Amenhotep III with a long inscription on one side (Williams, “The ‘Israel Stele,’ ” 137). In the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign, around 1209 BC, he used the other side of the stele to write a poetic hymn that commemorates his military campaign against the Libyans (Hoffmeier, “The (Israel) Stela,” 41). Yurco provides an overview of the political climate of the time and situates Merneptah’s military campaign in the contexts of Egypt’s struggle to maintain and defend its realms and international relations (Yurco, “Merenptah’s Canaanite Campaign”). According to the stele, this campaign was prompted when “The god Ptah appeared in a dream to Merneptah of the XIX dynasty, and encouraged him to attack the Libyans” (Robinson, Bearing of Archaeology, 32). The stele itself depicts Amon-Re giving Merneptah a sword for his divinely sanctioned military campaign (Pritchard, ANET, 376).(Locatell, C. S. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Merneptah Stele. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).

#25 Karnak

Among the remains at Karnak—the complex of religious buildings in the northeastern corner of modern-day Luxor—Frith spotted this fallen obelisk lying atop a pile of rubble. The main temple at Karnak, erected during the New Kingdom period (1550–1069 B.C.), was dedicated to the god Amun-Ra. In 667 B.C., the temple and Karnak itself were destroyed by the Assyrians led by King Ashurbanipal. When Frith arrived at the site 2,500 years later, little had changed—except that Karnak’s artifacts were being looted and shipped off to museums a continent away. Whether an Egyptian pasha or a European antiquities dealer, the plunderer was the subject of Frith’s most vitriolic prose (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 01:03.)

Karnak, the great temple of the god Amun-Re in Thebes, Egypt, appears here in the distance. Under construction for more than 2,000 years, the temple of Karnak is viewed through the hypostyle hall of the Akh-menu temple of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1504–1450 B.C.E.) in the foreground. An obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut, located beyond the Karnak sanctuary, is visible on a line with the center of the temple doorway. Flanking the doorway are engaged statues of Tuthmosis III.

According to author Frank J. Yurco, a wall adjoining Karnak’s great Hypostyle Hall exhibits reliefs that illustrate the Canaanite campaign of Merenptah, pharaoh of Egypt from 1212 to 1202 B.C.E. Among the vivid portrayals is the oldest known depiction of Israelites, a discovery that may aid in solving the mystery of their origin.(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1990). BAR 16:05 (Sep/Oct 1990).

Waset was a small village on the Nile’s east bank, where the alluvial plain broadened out to about 9 mi. After the collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom (ca. 2687–2190 BC), it grew in size and influence until becoming the capital of reunited Egypt at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2060–1700 BC). It is better known in history by its ancient Greek name, Thebes. Long after the city declined, during the early Islamic period, the visible ruins of the Luxor Temple became known in Arabic as Al Uqsur (“The Palaces”). That name has come to us in its shortened version and is applied to the entire city—Luxor. The Karnak Temple complex, Egypt’s most famous temple, is within the city limits of modern Luxor. (2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(4), 97.

The temple was actually a complex, with multiple temples to a variety of Theban gods. The center of the complex was the Amun (and later Amun-re) Temple. It was the largest temple precinct and possibly the most important in ancient Egypt. While originally begun during the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2060–1700 BC), it became a national building project during the New Kingdom (ca. 1570–1070 BC) and stayed under continual construction for some 1500 years, with subsequent Pharaohs adding on with pylons, shrines, obelisks and statues. Yet, none of these architectural features or decorations were designed for the masses to see and be impressed or educated by. Instead they were specifically designed to impress Amun (and possibly the powerful Amun priesthood, as well). Beyond the Amun Temple, the Karnak complex included a temple to Ptah (the creator god and patron of Memphis), a temple to Montu (the local war god) and a temple to Mut (Amun’s wife). Unlike most temples, which are built along a single axis, the Karnak Temple was built along two different axes, in all four directions of the compass.(2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(4), 97.

#26 Sea Peoples Inscription

Manacled Philistine prisoners. In this wall relief from Ramesses III’s mortuary palace at Medinet Habu, Philistines, whom Rameses has just defeated, are shown being led into captivity. This relief clearly depicts the distinctive Philistine dress—a short paneled kilt with wide hem and tassels. The battle headdress is also a Philistine trademark. Since these prisoners have been stripped of their armor, we do not see the ribbed corselets visible in the naval battle reliefs.

The hieroglyphic inscription over the prisoners’ heads reads: “The vanquished Peleset [Philistines] say: ‘Give us the breath of our nostrils, O King, Son of Amon.’” Other inscriptions at Medinet Habu relate that Ramesses III defeated the Sea People invaders in the eighth year of his reign, c. 1190 B.C. “Those who entered the river mouths were like birds ensnared in the net.” Ramesses eventually allowed the Sea Peoples, including the Philistines, to settle on the southern coastal plain of Palestine. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1982). BAR 08:04 (July/Aug 1982).)

The Philistines who regularly oppose the Israelites in the biblical narratives are believed to have been part of the so-called “Sea Peoples“—a confederacy of seafaring raiders who invaded the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age (around 1200 BC). The biblical Philistines have been identified with the “Peleset” of Egyptian inscriptions, a group among the Sea Peoples with cultural elements from Aegean tradition (Dothan, The Philistines, 14; Yasur-Landau, Philistines and Aegean Migration; Faust and Lev-Tov, “Constitution of Philistine Identity”; Killebrew and Lehmann, Philistines and other “Sea Peoples”; Middleton, “Telling Stories”). However, recent studies treat them more as a heterogeneous group than a single entity (Ben-Shlomo, “Cultural Diversity, Ethnicity, and Power”; Killebrew Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity, 197–245; Maeir et al., “Constitution and Transformation”) (Caiafa, L. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Tell Qasile. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#27 Code of Hammruabi

A second-millennium law code developed during the reign of Hammurabi (king of Babylon). Contains 282 laws addressing various social issues and crimes. Divides legal decisions by social class (free men, middle class, and slave).


The Code of Hammurabi provides a glimpse into the society of the Old Babylonian period—a world like that of the patriarchs. Details in the code have provided information about the daily life of people during that time, including such details as the price of hiring a boat for a day (§ 275–277) and the cost of an early delivery of a jug of beer during harvest time (§ 111). The code’s sampling of legal situations has elaborated details contained in numerous other documents from this time. The legal material preserved on the code provides a source for comparison with the Bible’s legal material. While the Code of Hammurabi is hundreds of years older than the date ascribed to the final form of the Pentateuch, it is closer to its autograph than the legal corpus we find in the Bible (Eichler, “Examples of Restatement”; Fleishmann, “Legal Continuation and Reform”). The law code was not the first to be developed, as the Law Code of Lipit-Ishtar and other examples date to the third millennium (circa 2100 BC). Although it is not the earliest, the Code of Hammurabi is significantly longer and better written than prior law codes (Van Seters, Law Book, 95–96).

Over 50 partial copies of the text survive, suggesting the code was important to Babylonian culture and the Babylonian scribal tradition (Roth, “The Laws of Hammurabi,” 335). The best preserved and longest of the surviving examples of the text is written on a stele dated to circa 1760–1750 BC. This stele was commissioned by Hammurabi, probably after his 35th regnal year when he defeated Zimri-Lim, ruler of Mari—the last competition for rule over Mesopotamia. It is a single stone measuring 7 feet 4.5 inches tall by 2 feet 1.5 inches wide. The front and back of the stele is engraved with Akkadian cuneiform. It originally stood in Babylon and was later moved to Susa after a raid by the Elamites (the diorite stele is now in the Louvre).

The top third of the front face features a glyptic scene showing Hammurabi standing before the seated deity Shamash, god of the sun and justice. He is shown receiving the “rod and ring,” tools symbolizing divine authority with regard to correct judgment. This scene probably served as an comprehensible manifestation of the written material to the illiterate public. The stele was uncovered by French archaeologist de Morgan in 1901 at Susa (modern Shush, Iran).

It contains 282 laws covering a wide range of social areas(Bryan C. Babcock, J. H., & Strong, J. D. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Hammurabi, Code of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).

#28 Shabaka Stone

The Shabaka stone, a basalt slab covered in early hieroglyphics from the time of Pharaoh Shabaka (seventh century BC) with evidence of a much earlier origin, is one of the oldest cosmological texts ever discovered. It contains information on Memphite theology, including a brief mention of the creation of Atum by the word of Ptah (creator God). This theory argues that, since there is evidence for an Egyptian word-theology that arguably predates every other word-philosophy, the creation story of Gen 1 comes from an Egyptian rather than a Mesopotamian environment. Therefore, the use of logos in John’s Gospel originates in a Near Eastern (Egyptian, reflected in a Sumerian parallel, brought out in Hebrew style) thought-world (Albright, Stone Age, 146). One strength of this theory is that it eliminates the need to explain John’s connection with classical Greek philosophy. However, because the stone is a very early text with little evidence of being accepted outside of Egypt, this theory is often rejected.(Estes, D. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Logos. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).

An Egyptian account of creation inscribed on the Shabaka Stone. The stone is dated to the reign of Shabaka, a pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty (ca. 700 BC), but the text is probably much older. Contains conceptual similarities to the account of creation in Genesis.


Memphite Theology draws on earlier Egyptian stories of creation and organizes them philosophically. In this theology, Ptah, the god of craftsmanship, is responsible for creation; he speaks thoughts into existence. Ptah becomes the primordial waters and ultimately pervades all of creation (Arnold, Encountering the Book of Genesis, 47).

This account also emphasizes the belief that thoughts are the source for everything—that the world was created with intelligence and sustained by intelligence (Breasted, Dawn of Conscience, 37). The Hebrew account of creation in Genesis contrasts this and other similar teachings of ancient Near Eastern cultures (Johnston, “Genesis 1,” 194).

Date, Authorship, and Purpose

The Memphite Theology comes from an inscription on a black stone bearing the name of the pharaoh Shabaka (700 BC) of the 25th Dynasty. Shabaka said he copied it from an inscription that “the ancestors had made, but was worm-eaten” (Pritchard, ANET, 4). The original inscription was likely written on papyrus. The terminology and textual organization used in the inscription, which dates the text to the First Dynasty (ca. 2500 BC), supports Shabaka’s claim (Frankfort, The Intellectual Adventures of Ancient Man, 55). Breasted proposed a date for the original text within the First Union before the First Dynasty, ca. 3400 BC (Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience, 31–32).

The Memphite Theology promotes the supremacy of Memphis, the city of the god Ptah, for political leadership. Breasted argues that the text was created by priests to give a theological premise for moving the Egyptian capital from Heliopolis to Memphis due to the triumphs of Menes, the founder of the First Dynasty (Breasted, Dawn of Conscience, 19).(Nierengarten, P. A. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Memphite Theology. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#29 Ugaritic Abecedary

Fragment of Ugaritic alphabet tablet. During the first weeks of his excavation, Schaeffer discovered clay tablets written in a cuneiform alphabet. Not until after World War II, however, did he unearth the first of several abecedary (alphabet) tablets. A fragment of one of these alphabet tablets is pictured here. By comparing this photo to the chart of the Ugaritic alphabet, one can identify many of the letters on the tablet.(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1983). BAR 09:05 (Sep/Oct 1983).

This abecedary (compare with photo of ram’s head statue) contains the Ugaritic characters in the traditional order of the alphabet that we still use; the Ugaritic signary is the oldest evidence we have for the order of the signs later used in Phoenician and Hebrew.

However, in the accompanying article, Barry Powell, following the earlier work of I.J. Gelb, argues that West Semitic scripts are not alphabets but simply refined syllabaries. To Powell, a true alphabet must have signs for phonemes—the smallest particles of sound. The West Semitic scripts, however, only had signs for consonants plus an implied vowel, leaving it to the reader to determine what vowels to supply. It was the Greeks, Powell argues, who in the eighth century B.C. developed the first true alphabet. Borrowing West Semitic characters, they assigned these signs to phonemes with separate and distinct signs for vowels as well as consonants. Powell suggests that one man invented the alphabet to record the hexameters of Homer’s epics, which until then had existed only as oral poetry. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 01:01.)

#30 Keret Epic from Ugarit

Let us now look briefly at the Legend of Keret and see if there might be some relationship with the events occurring at the fall of Jericho.

It is the epic tale of a king who needs an heir to the throne. As Keret weeps in his chamber, El appears to him in a dream and gives him instructions to sacrifice, and then take an expedition to get his wife and, through her, have a son. First Keret provides a great feast for all the people. Then the expedition sets out in order: men of war first, the people following, then the trumpeters last. All are warned to keep quiet until the last day.

Two six-day intervals are recorded in the epic, with the climax on the seventh day in both periods. A tremendous noise is made at dawn on the seventh day, just before arriving at the city (Udum) of the future queen(1990). Bible and Spade (1990), 3(2), 55.

THE LEGEND OF KERET. This epic, written on four tablets in cuneiform alphabetic script, tells of the prosperous King Keret of Ugarit. The story says that Keret was distressed by the death of his wife and her failure to bear any heirs to the throne. The god El told him to demand the hand of the beautiful daughter of the king of Udum. Keret made the appropriate vows, besieged the capital of Udum, and won the king’s daughter. In time, he had sons and daughters of his own. Keret fell ill, but El intervened to restore his health.(Packer, J. I., Tenney, M. C., & White, W., Jr. (1997). Nelson’s illustrated manners and customs of the Bible (p. 130). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.)

#31 Ba’al Epic from Ugarit

The Baal Epic recounts how the storm god Baal displaced El as the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon. The story involves Baal defeating Yam, the sea god (KTU 1.2, col. iv; see Wyatt, Religious Texts from Ugarit, 63–69; Smith and Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 102–04). Later, Mot, the god of the Underworld, challenges Baal and boasts that just as Baal swallowed up Yam (KTU 1.2, col. iv., lines 25–27), so Mot will swallow up Baal. In this exchange, Mot refers to Baal’s defeat of Litan (or Leviathan), apparently equating Yam and Litan (KTU 1.5, col. i, lines 1–8; translation from Smith and Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, 141):

When you killed Litan, the Fleeing Serpent,

Annihilated the Twisty Serpent,

The Potentate with Seven Heads,

The heavens grew hot, they withered.

But let me tear you to pieces,

Let me eat flanks, innards, forearms.

Surely you will descend into Divine Mot’s throat,

Into the gullet of El’s Beloved, the Hero.

The description of Litan in the first lines of this tablet from the Baal Epic use almost the exact words as the description of Leviathan in Isa 27:1 (Ugaritic transcription based on Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, “Text 67:I”).(Hamilton, D. M. with M. J. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Leviathan. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#32 Sarcophagus of Ahiram, King of Byblos

The sarcophagus of Ahiram, king of Byblos (c. 1000 BCE) with the oldest continuous and readable Phoenician inscription of any substantial length incised around the edge of the lid. Photograph by permission of Dar el-Machreq Publishers.

1 Sarcophagus which Ittobaal bin Ahiram, King of Byblos, made for Ahiram, his father, when he put him in the tomb. 2 If a king among kings, or a governor among governors, or an army commander should come up to Byblos and expose this sarcophagus, may the scepter of his rule be snatched away, may the throne of his sovereignty be overturned, and as for peace, may it flee from Byblos, and as for him, may his inscription be erased before Byblos.

The stone where the last two words of the inscription are carved is very rough, which has made the reading of these words difficult. Teixidor (1987:139), using new photographs, proposes the reading given here.24

The sarcophagus, with its inscription, was originally dated by its archaeological context to the 13th century BCE. Dunand, in a postscript to his Byblia Grammata, lowered his date for the sarcophagus to ca. 1000 BCE because of some Iron age pottery discovered in the shaft of the tomb. Archaeological arguments have, however, been offered to support the earlier date by explaining the Iron Age sherds as later contamination (Hachmann 1967, Porada 1973:356–357, and cf. Garbini 1977b:81–85).25

Some have dated the inscription itself on paleographic grounds to the first half of the 10th century (Dunand 1945; Albright 1947). Martin (1961:70–75), having reexamined the sarcophagus, discovered on it a Pseudo-Hieroglyphic inscription that predates the Phœnician one, the latter beginning after and, for the most part, avoiding the earlier one. From the archaeological, art-historical, and paleographic arguments, one can surmise that the sarcophagus was probably made in the 13th century and inscribed with a Pseudo-hieroglyphic inscription. Later, around 1000 BCE, Itto-baal reused the sarcophagus to bury his father Ahiram and had a new inscription added to it.

Further up the tomb shaft Montet found a seemingly contemporary inscription warning potential grave robbers: “1 Beware! 2 Warning! There is disaster for you 3 here below!” If this inscription is to be associated with that of the sarcophagus, it would seem that Ittobaal went to great lengths to insure that no one else would do what he himself did, usurping the tomb for his own use. (Vance, D. R. (2001). Literary Sources for the History of Palestine and Syria: The Phœnician Inscriptions. Biblical Archaeologist: Volume 57 1-4, (electronic ed.), 7–8.)

#33 Nora Stone

The Phoenician inscription on the eighth-century B.C. Nora Stone—found near the ancient Phoenician settlement of Nora, modern Pula in Sardinia—proves that the name “Sardinia” has been in use for 2,800 years. The third line from the top of the 3.5-foot-high stela reads, from right to left, b sardn, meaning “on the island of Sardinia.”

The inscription appears to commemorate the early eighth-century B.C. founding of the Phoenician colony of Nora and the building of a temple dedicated to one “Lpmy”—perhaps referring to the Phoenician king Pygmalion (820–774 B.C.) of Tyre.(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 06:02.)

The Nora fragment (shown here, compare with drawing). Discovered in the 19th century on the island of Sardinia, this 18-inch-high by 24-inch-wide stone slab contains the remains of an inscription written in Phoenician-style Semitic letters. Epigraphers are strongly divided over the date of the inscription. Frank Moore Cross believes it was written boustrophedon-style (“as the ox ploughs,” that is, alternating between right-to-left and left-to-right) and dates it to about 1000 B.C.E. If Cross is correct, the Nora Fragment is the oldest Semitic inscription yet found in the Central or Western Mediterranean and bolsters Cross’ view that the Phoenicians disseminated the alphabet much earlier than many classicists have been willing to acknowledge. Other epigraphers, however, claim that Cross has read the inscription upside-down and that it was not written in boustrophedon fashion; these scholars date the fragment to the ninth century B.C.E. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 08:06.)

#34 Tell Fakhariyeh Statue

The latest addition to the corpus of Old Aramaic tests can be found on this life-sized basalt statue, discovered in 1969 at the site of Tell Fakhariyeh (ancient Sikan), about 2 kilometers east of Tell Halaf (ancient Gozan). The inscription, which is written on the front and back of the man’s skirt, records two separate dedications of the statue of Had-Yiṯ˓i, governor of Gozan, the hadad temple of Sikanu. Thirty-eight lines of Assyrian cuneiform script are on the front of the skirt, while twenty-three lines of Aramaic script are on the back. Photographs from Abou-Assaf, Bordreuil, and Millard (1982), courtesy of Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, Paris. (1988). Biblical Archaeologist, 51.

The Tell Fakhariyeh Bilingual Inscription was discovered in 1979. It dates to the mid-ninth century BC, and the Aramaic portion consists of 23 lines. The inscription is found on a life-size human statue along with a parallel inscription in Akkadian. Both texts consist of two dedications and are found on the skirt of the figure. They shed light on the interactions between Aram and Assyria, the religious practices associated with the storm god Hadad, and linguistic reconstruction (Layton, “Old Aramaic Inscriptions,” 176; compare Naveh, “Proto-Canaanite, Archaic Greek, and the Script of the Aramaic Text on the Tell Fakhariyah Statue,” 101–13).(Dodd, R. A. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Arameans. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#35 Tel Dan Stele

Three Pieces of an Aramaic inscription engraved on a basalt monument were discovered in the early 1990’s at the Biblical city of Dan. Now referred to as the Tel Dan Stela, the original stone had been smashed in antiquity and the pieces reused in a later wall. Parts of 13 lines are readable, about one-third of the 3 ft x 2 ft inscription. Aramaic is a sister language to Old Testament Hebrew and, based on the shape of the letters, scholars date the text to the mid-ninth century B C., during the period of the divided Israelite monarchy.

Possibly Commissioned by the king of Aram (modern Syria), this is the first royal monumental inscription with a historical text ever found in Israel. While not mentioning their actual names, the text speaks of “the king of Israel” and “the House of David,” and most likely memorializes the victory of Hazael, king of Aram, over Joram, king of Israel, and Ahaziah, king of Judah, at Ramoth Gilead recorded in 2 Kings 8:28–29.

King David’s dynasty through Solomon, commonly referred to in the Bible as “the House of David,” ruled the Southern Kingdom from their capital of Jerusalem. This inscription, the first-known mention of David in a contemporary text outside the Bible, was made by an enemy only a little over 100 years after David’s death! At a time when some scholars are maintaining that David was only a mythical figure, an archaeological find has once again demonstrated the historical reliability of the Bible.(2003). Bible and Spade (2003), 16(4), 121.

#36 Moabite Stone

The Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone, commemorates the political accomplishments of Mesha, king of Moab. The inscription glorifies his rebellion against the oppressive and powerful Omride regime. In the inscription, Mesha admits that the Omrides controlled Moab for Omri’s days and “half the days of his son” (presumably Ahab), but brags that he successfully rebelled and Israel was utterly destroyed (ll. 7–8). A biblical parallel to this account appears in 2 Kgs 3, where Mesha’s revolt is contextualized during the reign of Jehoram. The biblical account documents Israel’s aggressive response to Mesha’s rebellion. With the aid of Judah, Israel invaded Moab and systematically razed its cities (2 Kgs 3:24–25). Israel ultimately surrounded the Moabite city Kir Hareseth, only to retreat at the sight of Mesha’s gory sacrifice of his firstborn on the walls of that city (1 Kgs 3:27).(Schreiner, D. B. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Omride Dynasty. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#37 Melqart Stele of Bir-Hadad

The Melqart Stele (also known as the Bar-Hadad Stele) is a dedicatory royal inscription. It was found in 1939 in a village north of Aleppo and has five lines of text below a relief of the god, Melqart. The inscription dates to the mid-ninth or early eighth century BC. The text commemorates Melqart answering a prayer from the king of Aram. It appears to mention Bar-Hadad and his father. However, the text is severely fragmented (Layton, “Old Aramaic Inscriptions,” 176–77; Hafthorsson, A Passing Power, 33–39).(Dodd, R. A. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Arameans. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#38 Sefire Stele

The Sefire treaties collectively represent the longest Old Aramaic inscription—approximately 100 lines of text dating from the eighth century BC. Although three Sefire Stelae exist, the first is of special historical interest since it describes a treaty between Aram and other entities. The treaties represent first hand witnesses to treaty formulas of this period (Hafthorsson, A Passing Power, 66–69; Layton, “Old Aramaic Inscriptions,” 178–80). For more information about the Sefire Treaties, see this article: Sefire Treaties (Dodd, R. A. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Arameans. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).

#39 Tell Siran Bottle

Ammonite artifacts provide a historical context for the Ba‘alis seal. The slender 4-inch bottle above boasts of the public works—“The orchard and the vineyard and the parks and the pools”—erected by Amminadab I, king of the Ammonites in about 650 B.C.E. The bronze bottle was recovered at Tell Siran, northwest of Amman, Jordan. Like the Ba‘alis seal, the Tell Siran inscription uses the phrase “Sons of Ammon.”(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1999). BAR 25:02 (March/April 1999).)

Epigraphic materials from ancient Ammon include the Amman citadel inscription from the late ninth—early eighth centuries BC, a large collection of seals, an inscribed bottle from Tell Siran dating to the sixth century BC, and the Amman Theater inscription (also sixth century BC). Scholars disagree over whether the Ammonites used a distinct national script, but it is clear that their script is closely related to the Aramaic script.(Hulbert, W. G. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Ammon, Kingdom of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).

#40 Padi Ekron Inscription

The piéce de rèsistance of the Ekron excavations is the Ekron Royal Dedicatory Inscription, which was embedded in the back wall of the Holy of Holies of Temple 650. It reads, “The temple which he built, Achish, son of Padi, son of Ysd, son of Ada, son of Ya’ir, ruler of Ekron, for Ptgyh his lady. May she bless him, and protect him and prolong his days, and bless his land.” The inscription gives Ekron the distinction of being the only Biblical city to be identified by a monumental inscription found in place at the site. The inscription does double duty, however, by showing that the Philistines remained Philistines even as they were borrowing from surrounding cultures. It describes Achish (or Ikausu) dedicating a temple to the goddess Ptgyh. Achish may be related to the name Achaean, meaning Greek, while the goddess Ptgyh is associated with the shrine at Delphi, in Greece, dedicated to Gaia, the Mycenaean mother-goddess. Both names, then, recall the Aegean origins of the Philistines or relations between Ekron and the Aegean as late as the seventh century B.C.E. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2005). BAR 31:06 (Nov/Dec 2005).)


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